Ravens' schedule includes compliment of exposure

OWINGS MILLS – The NFL appears convinced about the Baltimore Ravens' renewed ability to contend next season despite being absent from the postseason last year.

The Ravens were paid the respect of being awarded four nationally televised contests, including a pair of Monday night games against the Pittsburgh Steelers (Oct. 31) and Green Bay Packers (Dec. 19), when the league released its schedule Wednesday.

Not only does Baltimore open the season on ESPN Sept. 11 against the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium, but it will also face the Minnesota Vikings in another nationally televised Sunday home game on Dec. 25.

"I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Baltimore being deemed highly by the league office. "It's a little something special, particularly the night games, Sunday night, Monday night, there's a certain energy that goes with it so you look forward to those games."

Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, a familiar rival from the old AFC Central whom Baltimore faces Sept. 18 in Nashville, has already predicted that Baltimore will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl after signing two of his former starters: cornerback Samari Rolle and receiver Derrick Mason.

The Ravens, which finished 9-7 last season as three key offensive starters (Jamal Lewis, Todd Heap and Jonathan Ogden) missed a total of 18 games, will only have three home games in September and October: Indianapolis; New York Jets (Oct. 2) and the Cleveland Browns (Oct. 16).

However, the Ravens venture onto the road just twice in the final five games and play consecutive road games only once. The Ravens play the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Oct. 23 followed by the Steelers at Heinz Field on Monday night.

The Ravens are at home after both Monday night games.

"The pacing of this, home/away, home/away, for the most part, except for the late shot in October, you like that and it does give you a chance," Billick said. "The pacing of it, I like the look of it so far."

Strangely, the Ravens play five of their six AFC North encounters in midseason. They face Cleveland followed by defending division champion Pittsburgh, the Cincinnati Bengals (Nov. 6) at home, the Steelers at home Nov. 20 and the Bengals on the road (Nov. 27).

Baltimore concludes the regular season Jan. 1 on the road against the Browns.

"It's unique," Billick said of the configuration of divisional games. "Normally, the last couple of years, it seems like they want you to start and finish within the division, which is kind of good.

"They kind of clumped us all together. So, to play both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati twice each within a month's time is a little different than we've had before."

Billick appeared puzzled by having such an early bye (Sept. 25), adding that it's unlikely the players will be given the week completely off.

The Ravens' defense, which ranked sixth in the league in total defense last season, will be tested severely by Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and Packers quarterback Brett Favre.

"I think it's great for our fans to be able to have two athletes of that caliber to come into M&T Bank Stadium," Billick said. "The atmosphere, Colts, Manning, Sunday night opener, wow. That's going to be electric.

"With Green Bay, this is one time I don't think the weather is going to be an advantage for us. I think they're going to have their shades and short-sleeved shirts on even a 25-degree night."

Aaron Wilson is the chief writer for RavensInsider.Com He is also the Ravens' reporter for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

If you are reading this article via a news portal, you can find the original on RavensInsider.Com
URL: http://www.ravensinsider.com

Ravens Insider Top Stories